I'm not really a numbers kinda girl, but I think the third time might actually be the charm—at least when it comes to bike tours.
Like some sort of be-wheeled, badass and slightly tanner version of Goldilocks, I bopped from one organized, pay-to-ride event to the other this summer, only to be horribly disappointed not once but twice.
First —in what is still the single most-read post on my blog to date — I shared with you all the universal shit show that was Bike New York's Five Boro Bike Tour.
With more than 30,000 cyclists parading through the city on everything from tandems to unicycles, event organizers tried and failed to control the masses, resulting in massive delays (cue the recurring BQE traffic jam nightmares) and severe lapses in communication that left us all wondering who the hell was running that ship.
After that disaster, I took a chance when prompted by friends to give bike tours another go, this time on a much smaller scale. I truly enjoyed June's gorgeous Ride To Montauk, which is run by the quirky and elusive (anyone met this dude before?) Glen Goldstein.
He cares loads about cyclists and the amount of blood, sweat and tears that went into organizing this ride was evident in everything from the rest stop snacks (pie!) to the convenient back-to-Manhattan bikes + biker shuttles.
Unfortunately, the ultra-organized ride hit a snag re: bike transport and my buddies and I, along with dozens of others, wound up bike-less at ride's end.
Add to that one painfully injured kneecap (my fault, not theirs) and as summer drew to a close I had pretty much decided my bike tour days were over. I ignored all mention of the Century Bike Tour even when I found out my buds had signed up to do the full 100 mile ride.
It wasn't until the first week of August, when someone sent me a link to a Tippr (another Groupon knock-off) coupon for half-off the $60 registration fee, that my resolve started to crumble a little.
Thirty bucks wasn't really that bad (Montauk costs a whopping $180), plus there were only about 5,000 people registered—a mere fraction of the participants clogging up streets during the FBBT. Also, we'd be finishing and starting the race in the same location, which meant no pesky ferries or trucks to deal with.
In the end, I caved. I got a brand new beauty called Blue 2.0 and I decided it was time to see what we both were made of.
I'm proud to say we made it! No annoying injuries, no massive organizational failures, no weather fiascos. From start to finish, the ride was a joyous one and even though I think we all finished a little later than we would have liked (6:30 p.m.), I didn't mind taking things at a slower pace.
For one thing, I didn't want to blow my knees before I even got warmed up and for another, it gave me extra time to enjoy my company, which included the lovely (and traffic-stopping!) Malaika in her cute printed dress (for the record, they're sail boats not polka dots) and my usual crew of friends.
|Lucky shot! I managed to snap this gorgeous photo of Malaika cruising behind me as we |
crossed the Brooklyn Bridge.
|Group shot early in the day.|
|With Sheryl + Malaika at the Astoria Park rest stop—82 miles down, 18 to go!|
As it turns out, she's taking the U.S by storm over the next six months, biking across the country and creating her incredible balloon art along the way to support herself. How cool is that?
And I'm super excited to be hosting her in Astoria this weekend! How could I not support a girl with the guts to go on such an incredible journey? Check out more on her adventure and impressive balloon work here.
|Jami + Malaika at the Prospect Park rest stop.|
1. Independence: Like the Ride To Montauk, I felt like this tour was really about letting cyclists take the route into their own hands and explore their surroundings. Hardly any streets had been closed for our exclusive use—in contrast to the FBBT—and I think it really drove home the tour's central goal: to celebrate the ease and possibility of daily urban commuting. With a handy, easy-to-read queue sheet in hand, we were on our own for most of the time, navigating through normal Sunday traffic along the way.
2. Guidance: Yes, we enjoyed a bit of freedom when it came to navigating the route, but it wasn't like they threw us out there without any help. Sharrows (those little arrow markers painted on the ground) were abundant, as were were TransAlt volunteers who pointed us in the right direction at some of the route's trickier twists and turns. I really appreciated this, especially since during the RTM I was among dozens of riders delayed 20 minutes or more after missing a poorly marked turn.
3. Grub: Apart from the fact that almost all the bananas at the rest stops seemed to have been plucked inedibly green from the jungle tree that morning, I didn't experience any major food issues. A damaged truck put a huge dent in the RTM's food supply and at the FBBT, cyclists arriving late to the finish line were left with little else than overpriced scraps to eat.
Maybe I'm being nit-picky here, but if you plop down that much cash on an event, the least you can expect is to get a little PB&J, right? The guys in my group grumbled about the lack of power gel packets at rest stops, but I find those things pretty repulsive, so I didn't miss them.
|Fresh faced and feeling fab at mile 15 with |
fellow blogger Malaika.
For this tour, I made sure to sleep at least 7 hours each night the week before the ride and I noticed a HUGE difference in my performance. I didn't have to stop as long at rest stops and I even managed to bike home from the finish line—bringing my total mileage for the day to 115.
5. Buena Vista(s): Listen, if you think I'm doing these long rides because I get some sort of sick enjoyment out of sitting on pillows for days afterward and cocooning my gams in ice pack bondage, then allow me to set the record straight.
These long tours, at least for me, are really about enjoying all the incredible sights waiting to be discovered in New York—the ones you can't see from behind the windows of cars, trains or buses. Believe me, there is more to this place than skyscrapers and museums and it's all out there waiting for you.
So, sure, it's cool to
It's cruising across the Brooklyn Bridge and watching the sun rise golden and warm and shimmering over the East River for the first time.
It's cracking up as you struggle against heavy headwinds in the Far Rockaways, listening to the roar of the Atlantic crashing onto the beach just meters away.
It's facing bridges so steep you doubt you'll ever make it across until suddenly you're at the top, rendered breathless by the Manhattan skyline rearing up to greet you in the distance.
It's checking out a West Indian cricket match (really) on a stretch of green in Queens you'd never have noticed before and treating yourself to a corn dog at a still-sleepy Coney Island because you just biked 20 miles to get there and, well, you earned it dammit.
Most of all, it's about taking away awesome memories like these:
Corona Park unisphere pose.
And yeah, OK, I'll give it to you. It's also about crossing that Finish line:
My ultra dorky post-ride video:
After the 80-mile rest stop in Astoria, we pushed ourselves to the max through the last, most difficult portion of the ride. Those hills in the Bronx were no joke and seemed to never end. I started riding standing up just to push myself over them because it felt better for my knees than trying to attempt the climb seated. I was in a bit of discomfort but I figured I was so close to finishing, a little pain didn't matter.
Miles 95-100 went by slowest but, finally, we breezed into Central Park and were greeted by a sweet little group of cheerers. We arrived later than 6 p.m. so all the food was gone (womp womp) but that was OK since we stuffed our faces throughout the day. All in all, I'm so happy with how things turned out. I'll definitely think about doing this tour again next year.
Today at work, one of my colleagues stopped to ask about the ride.
"When did you become this biker girl?" she asked.
I had to stop for minute to really think about that. I never have considered myself an athlete or a hardcore cyclist by any means. But something has happened to me in the past year; there's no doubt about that. I've become something more than just a girl who bought a bike to get around a new city.
I've grown to truly care about the cycling community in New York and I take pride in knowing that I'm part of it. The Century Tour was an athletic challenge, sure, but beyond that it was the opportunity to celebrate a mutual love for something that is more than just a sport. It's a way of life.